The Asia-Pacific has become the primary market where global powers assert their economic and geo-political ambitions. Already in 2006, the European Commission communicated that the region would be amongst its primary targets for the new (bilateral) trade agenda. It was in this region that economic growth would occur and where the EU’s export and investment opportunities would be the largest. The US’ pivot to Asia and the increasing assertiveness of China in international trade further stimulated interest in the region.
The result is a flurry of trade initiatives at the multilateral, regional and bilateral level; each with varying memberships and a varying degree of depth. And as the hopes for multilateral solutions dwindled, the bilateral initiatives thrive. The complex political and legal patchwork that is being negotiated changes constantly as alliances and interests shift. The withdrawal of the US from the Trans Pacific Partnership is but one example that has shaken up the board significantly.
In a highly volatile setting as the one described above, can the EU pursue a coherent foreign policy? Can the EU manifest itself as an effective power in a multipolar world? The trade relations the EU can establish in the Asia-Pacific is a critical case to assess the EU’s ability to thrive (or whither) in the new global politics.
In addressing these questions, we push researchers to combine a geopolitical focus with a trade-technical focus. The many -often overlapping- initiatives in the region create technical complexities that may hinder a pragmatic approach in the region. The cumulation of rules of origin, mutual recognition of standards, the most-favored nation principle or dispute settlement are but a few examples. Is the EU able to maneuver effectively in an ever more connected, dense legal and political setting?